Music covered Hitchin like a patchwork quilt over the weekend. No matter how organized you were, no-one could hope to catch even each of the styles of music, let alone all 140 acts or the 700 plus performers. It would be wrong to single out any specific performers but the whole place rocked, flamencoed, chilled, funked, sambad, punked, bhangarad, raggad, reggaed, drummed, blued, jazzed and jammed. BBC Three Counties Radio broadcast live from the festival on Saturday afternoon and the crowds flocked into town for the biggest festival yet.
The laid-back Willow stage and the vibrant Portmill and Market Place stages were supported by the High Street stage where young musicians and rappers entertained. Club 85 rocked on Saturday, and was taken over by young musicians on Sunday – and Bancroft Gardens just oozed lazy Sunday afternoons. Local fringe venues also supported ROTW with acts giving yet further variety of style and venue.
The fun was just wandering from stage to stage, having time to catch bits of performances, being drawn in to a completely new experience of music and then moving on, exploring this patchwork of the familiar to the extraordinary to the outlandish. People from all walks of life united in mutual enjoyment of discovery, catching the atmosphere, watching, listening and dancing in the sunshine is what ROTW is about. The venues and the performers played their part – the people of Hitchin turned it into a Festival.
From the end of 2003 health and safety, and stewarding in particular, was the big challenge for 2004. Constructive criticism was taken on board and a huge effort went into these aspects. The result was that this was our best-organised event yet, receiving congratulations from the Police.
The scale of the event grew modestly with two main stages going through into Saturday evening and a large fringe with five venues. With a greater variety and quality of stalls and unprecedented crowds on both days, the town was alive with the sound of festival.
Collaboration with arts organisations broadened the scope of the festival. The BBC Roots initiative and the Arts Council were the source of some exciting and varied performances from the likes of the Osagyefo Theatre Company and Kadam Dance. ROTW 04 also showcased bands from the Hertfordshire Music Service "Rock Project" at Club 85.
BBC Three Counties Radio were big players in 04. Major sponsors of the event, they also broadcast live from the temporary studio on Bancroft on Saturday, with continuous live sessions, interviews and recorded music from performers at the festival.
After the success of St Mary's Church in 2003 this venue was open on both Saturday and Sunday and drew capacity audiences to a more contemplative world music programme that ranged from chanting Buddhist Monks to Gamelan Workshops and Operadagio — further contrasts in the rich patchwork that make this festival unique.
The street art projects, which made their first appearance in 2003, spread their dreams in 2004. More street banners painted by more schools, massive peace banners hung from St Mary's Church tower and the spectacular 'largest dream catcher in the world'. This epic artwork straddling Windmill Hill was created by over a thousand school children in nine local primary schools.
With more commercial sponsors, a better programme, more market stalls and world class acts including Salsa Celtica, Dele Sosimi, Celloman, ROTW projected a confident image. The event covered costs with a £3,000 surplus to put towards ROTW 2005.